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Edgar Talbot looked forward with eager anticipation to the evening of Maud Gilbert's party. It was to be his introduction into New York society.
He flattered himself that his appearance would win him favor. Though far from handsome, he thought himself so—a delusion not uncommon among boys and men. He dressed himself very carefully, and at the proper time set out for the house where the party was to be held. He and Stanley Rayburn had agreed to go together.
On reaching the house they were directed to the room set apart for gentlemen to arrange their toilet and leave their coats. The mansion was brilliantly decorated, and as Edgar went up-stairs he felt a thrill of exultation at being a guest in such a house.
He inwardly resolved that he would take advantage of his slight acquaintance with the Gilberts and push himself into intimate friendship. In that way he would be in a position to extend his acquaintance among fashionable people.
But a surprise and a shock were in store for him. As he entered the room he saw a boy standing in front of the mirror brushing his hair. He started in surprise.
The figure looked familiar. Could it be! Yes, it was his cousin Mark Mason—Mark Mason, handsomely dressed in party costume, and with a rose in his button-hole.
Mark turned round to see who were the newcomers.
"Good evening, Edgar," said Mark.
"You here!" exclaimed Edgar, in unqualified amazement.
"Yes; I did not expect to have the pleasure of meeting you," answered Mark with an amused smile. He understood Edgar's surprise, and the reason of it.
Meanwhile Stanley Rayburn stood by in silence.
"Introduce me to your friend, Edgar," he said, for he was attracted by Mark's frank, handsome face.
"Mark Mason—Stanley Rayburn!" said Edgar awkwardly. He would have liked to decline introducing Stanley to his poor cousin, but there seemed to be no way of avoiding it.
"I am glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Mason," said Stanley cordially.
"Thank you, but don't call me Mr. Mason."
"I would rather say Mark. Any friend of Edgar——"
"Mark Mason and I are only acquaintances," said Edgar hurriedly, and in the worst possible taste.
"I hope that we shall be friends," said Stanley with emphasis, thinking that Edgar was a cad.
"I hope so too," rejoined Mark earnestly, "if, after getting my 'character' from Edgar," he added with a smile, "you still wish it."
Stanley was a little puzzled, not knowing how Mark was regarded by his companion.
"I think I shall go down at once," said Stanley. "I don't think I require any finishing touches to my toilet."
"Be ready to go with me to Miss Gilbert," said Edgar. "I will follow you in a minute."
"Now," said Edgar, when he and his cousin were alone, "how do you happen to be here?"
"By Miss Gilbert's invitation, of course. I suppose that is the case with you."
"Certainly. Does she know that you are a telegraph boy?"
"That's strange. Did you ever meet her?"
"Oh, yes; I have spent the evening here two or three times."
"That's queer. By the way, you seem to be very nicely dressed."
"I am glad you like my suit."
"Yet you are as poor as poverty. It was a crazy idea to run into debt for an expensive suit."
"I didn't run into debt. My suit is paid for."
"Yet your mother claims to be very poor."
"We are getting along better now."
"It would have been wiser for you to save the money you spent on this suit and keep it for rent and food."
"Your advice is very kind, Edgar, but I really feel that I can manage my own business."
"Oh, well, if you choose to resent my good advice——"
"I don't. I hope it springs from your interest in me."
During this conversation Edgar was brushing his hair carefully and "prinking" before the glass, for he was anxious to appear as fascinating as possible when he presented himself to Miss Gilbert.
"Shall we go down?" asked Mark.
"Yes, perhaps we may as well. I suppose you would feel awkward entering the drawing-room alone."
"Perhaps so," said Mark smiling.
As the two presented themselves in the room below Edgar looked about for Stanley, but did not see him.
"I wonder where Stanley has disappeared to," he said in a tone of vexation. "He promised to go up with me to Miss Gilbert."
"If he doesn't show up, Edgar, I shall be glad to take his place. As you have only recently come to the city, I suppose you don't know her well."
"I only met her once," Edgar admitted, "and she may not remember me."
"Then come with me."
Almost against his wishes Edgar found himself walking up to the other end of the room with his despised cousin. He would not have believed it possible if this had been predicted to him an hour earlier.
"Good evening, Mark! I am glad to see you here," said Maud Gilbert, with a pleasant smile.
"Let me present Mr. Edgar Talbot," said Mark after a suitable acknowledgment.
"I had the pleasure of meeting you when in company with Stanley Rayburn," explained Edgar.
"Oh, yes, I remember. And so you are also acquainted with Mark."
"Yes," answered Edgar, rather awkwardly. "I expected Mr. Rayburn to present me."
"You have found a sponsor equally good," returned Maud.
Then the two walked on, giving place to others.
"You seem to know Miss Gilbert very well," said Edgar in a tone of curiosity.
"It is strange. I don't understand it."
Edgar was relieved to find that Mark did not claim him as a cousin, though to his surprise he saw that Mark stood particularly well with the young hostess.
"How do you, Mark?" The speaker was a bright boy of sixteen, the brother of Miss Gilbert. "How well you are looking!"
"Thank you, Charlie. If a young lady had told me that it would make me proud."
"Come along. I will introduce you to a couple of nice girls."
"Who is that?" asked Edgar of Rayburn, who had now come up.
"Don't you know? That is Charlie Gilbert, Maud's brother."
"So he knows Mark, too."
"Why shouldn't he?"
"Because Mark is—you will be surprised to hear it—a common telegraph boy."
"He may be a telegraph boy, but he certainly is not a common one. He is a nice-looking fellow, and I am glad to know him."
Presently dancing began. In his earlier days, when his father was living, Mark had taken lessons from a teacher, and though he was rather out of practise he ventured to go out on the floor, having as his partner one of the prettiest girls in the room.
As there was space for but two sets of dancers, Edgar was obliged to sit still and see the others dance. He felt very much dissatisfied especially as Mark seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly.
"Society in New York seems to be very much mixed," he said to himself, "when telegraph boys can push in and make themselves so conspicuous in rich men's houses."
Edgar got a chance to dance once later on, but the girl he danced with was very small and insignificant in appearance.
"Well, what kind of a time did you have?" asked Solon Talbot when his son returned home.
"I suppose it was quite a brilliant affair," said Solon Talbot complacently. "I am glad to have you invited to such a swell house. Did Stanley Rayburn take you up to Miss Gilbert?"
"No; he promised to, but when I looked for him he was not to be found."
"That was awkward."
"No; I found a substitute, a boy whom you and I both know."
"I have no idea whom you can mean."
"No; you might guess all night, but without success. It was Mark Mason."
"What! You don't mean to say that Mark Mason was a guest at the party?"
"Yes he was, and he seemed very well acquainted too."
"Was he in his telegraph uniform?"
"No; he had on a nice new suit, as handsome as mine. He had a rose in his button-hole and looked quite like a dude."
"How very extraordinary!" ejaculated Solon.
"I thought you would say so."
"Why, they are living from hand to mouth, steeped in poverty."
"So I thought, but it doesn't seem like it."
"The boy must be very cheeky, but even so, I can't account for his success. I shall have to call on his mother and ask what it means."
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